February 11, 2016

Another Liberal Media Attack on Farmers: Western Growers Responds

Most news reporters don’t know squat about the business of farming, and thanks to a pervasive bias, they don’t care. That is the obvious conclusion one would reach after reading a recent Associated Press article that opens with this not-so-subtle lede: “A new state report shows California farmers reaping record sales despite the epic drought, thriving even as city-dwellers have been forced to conserve water, household wells have run dry and fish have died.”

AP reporters Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith may as well apply to work for the Natural Resources Defense Council and end the pretense. 

Let’s start with the reported $53.5 billion in sales to farmers in 2014. This is an increase over the prior year. But anyone who has ever run a business knows that revenues are not profits. While the AP writers were fast to report the increased revenue statistic (in the second sentence of the story), they chose to leave out the reduced profit statistic, opting instead to minimize that fact with this cloudy bit of writing (five paragraphs down): “Higher costs for water and other expenses of the drought outstripped sales for some farmers, but experts said it is clear many others made strong profits, as evidenced by the rush by growers and corporate investors to get into the almond business and take advantage of a run-up in prices.” (emphasis added)

This begs the question: If the Associated Press thinks it’s proper to disregard the lower profitability number and fudge its impact on farmers, why didn’t they write the story lede in the same manner? Doing so would have produced something like this:

“A new state report shows California farmers suffered declining profits due to reduced water availability and higher spending to access scarce water, in spite of increasing overall farm revenues.”

The authors could also have examined the reasons why California farmers are making less money than at any point since 2011. They could have dug a little deeper and discovered that the cost of farming in California has risen by 36% over the past five years; inputs like seeds, fertilizer and electricity have all become significantly more expensive.

Instead, they seem more focused on creating a false narrative that farmers are water-rich while city-dwellers are suffering great water shortages. While it is true that “…city dwellers have been forced to conserve water…” it is just as true (but ignored by the AP) that Central Valley farmers have seen their federal water providers completely eliminate water deliveries and their state water providers deliver just 5% of their water allocation. As a result, 410,000 acres of good farmland remained unplanted and unproductive in 2014. 

We could go on dissecting the AP story, with its liberal use of loaded pejoratives, but we’d rather move on and thank the brilliant innovators and entrepreneurs whose creativity and profit-motivated risk-taking (cue gasp of dismay at AP) brought us the Internet, which destroyed the narrow funnels of “news” that for so long limited diversity of reportage and opinion and allows critics of shoddy journalism, like us, to broadcast our case far and wide.